Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Page 5) eBook online

“Go away,” Percy snapped.

“’Course, he’s very ambitious, Percy, he’s got it all planned out… he wants to be Minister of Magic…” Ron told Harry and Hermione in an undertone as they left Percy to it.

An hour later, they headed for Flourish and Blotts. They were by no means the only ones making their way to the bookshop. As they approached it, they saw to their surprise a large crowd jostling outside the doors, trying to get in. The reason for this was proclaimed by a large banner stretched across the upper windows:



GILDEROY LOCKHART

will be signing copies of his autobiography

MAGICAL ME

today 12.30—4.30


“We can actually meet him!” Hermione squealed. “I mean, he’s written almost the whole booklist!”

The crowd seemed to be made up mostly of witches around Mrs. Weasley’s age. A harassed looking wizard stood at the door, saying, “Calmly, please, ladies… Don’t push, there… mind the books, now…”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione squeezed inside. A long line wound right to the back of the shop, where Gilderoy Lockhart was signing his books. They each grabbed a copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 and sneaked up the line to where the rest of the Weasleys were standing with Mr. and Mrs. Granger.

“Oh, there you are, good,” said Mrs. Weasley. She sounded breathless and kept patting her hair. “We’ll be able to see him in a minute…”

Gilderoy Lockhart came slowly into view, seated at a table surrounded by large pictures of his own face, all winking and flashing dazzlingly white teeth at the crowd. The real Lockhart was wearing robes of forget me not blue that exactly matched his eyes; his pointed wizard’s hat was set at a jaunty angle on his wavy hair.

A short, irritable looking man was dancing around taking photographs with a large black camera that emitted puffs of purple smoke with every blinding flash.

“Out of the way, there,” he snarled at Ron, moving back to get a better shot. “This is for the Daily Prophet—”

“Big deal,” said Ron, rubbing his foot where the photographer had stepped on it.

Gilderoy Lockhart heard him. He looked up. He saw Ron and then he saw Harry. He stared. Then he leapt to his feet and positively shouted, “It can’t be Harry Potter?”

The crowd parted, whispering excitedly; Lockhart dived forward, seized Harry’s arm, and pulled him to the front. The crowd burst into applause. Harry’s face burned as Lockhart shook his hand for the photographer, who was clicking away madly, wafting thick smoke over the Weasleys.

“Nice big smile, Harry,” said Lockhart, through his own gleaming teeth. “Together, you and I are worth the front page.”

When he finally let go of Harry’s hand, Harry could hardly feel his fingers. He tried to sidle back over to the Weasleys, but Lockhart threw an arm around his shoulders and clamped him tightly to his side.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said loudly, waving for quiet. “What an extraordinary moment this is! The perfect moment for me to make a little announcement I’ve been sitting on for some time!

“When young Harry here stepped into Flourish and Blotts today, he only wanted to buy my autobiography—which I shall be happy to present him now, free of charge—” The crowd applauded again. “He had no idea,” Lockhart continued, giving Harry a little shake that made his glasses slip to the end of his nose, “that he would shortly be getting much, much more than my book, Magical Me. He and his schoolmates will, in fact, be getting the real magical me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure and pride in announcing that this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”

The crowd cheered and clapped and Harry found himself being presented with the entire works of Gilderoy Lockhart. Staggering slightly under their weight, he managed to make his way out of the limelight to the edge of the room, where Ginny was standing next to her new cauldron.

“You have these,” Harry mumbled to her, tipping the books into the cauldron. “I’ll buy my own—”

“Bet you loved that, didn’t you, Potter?” said a voice Harry had no trouble recognizing. He straightened up and found himself face to face with Draco Malfoy, who was wearing his usual sneer.

“Famous Harry Potter,” said Malfoy. “Can’t even go into a bookshop without making the front page.”

“Leave him alone, he didn’t want all that!” said Ginny. It was the first time she had spoken in front of Harry. She was glaring at Malfoy.

“Potter, you’ve got yourself a girlfriend!” drawled Malfoy. Ginny went scarlet as Ron and Hermione fought their way over, both clutching stacks of Lockhart’s books.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Ron, looking at Malfoy as if he were something unpleasant on the sole of his shoe. “Bet you’re surprised to see Harry here, eh?”

“Not as surprised as I am to see you in a shop, Weasley,” retorted Malfoy. “I suppose your parents will go hungry for a month to pay for all those.”

Ron went as red as Ginny. He dropped his books into the cauldron, too, and started toward Malfoy, but Harry and Hermione grabbed the back of his jacket.

“Ron!” said Mr. Weasley, struggling over with Fred and George. “What are you doing? It’s too crowded in here, let’s go outside.”

“Well, well, well—Arthur Weasley.”

It was Mr. Malfoy. He stood with his hand on Draco’s shoulder, sneering in just the same way.

“Lucius,” said Mr. Weasley, nodding coldly.

“Busy time at the Ministry, I hear,” said Mr. Malfoy. “All those raids… I hope they’re paying you overtime?”

He reached into Ginny’s cauldron and extracted, from amid the glossy Lockhart books, a very old, very battered copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration.

“Obviously not,” Mr. Malfoy said. “Dear me, what’s the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don’t even pay you well for it?”

Mr Weasley flushed darker than either Ron or Ginny.

“We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy,” he said.

“Clearly,” said Mr. Malfoy, his pale eyes straying to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, who were watching apprehensively. “The company you keep, Weasley… and I thought your family could sink no lower—”

There was a thud of metal as Ginny’s cauldron went flying; Mr. Weasley had thrown himself at Mr. Malfoy, knocking him backward into a bookshelf. Dozens of heavy spellbooks came thundering down on all their heads; there was a yell of, “Get him, Dad!” from Fred or George; Mrs. Weasley was shrieking, “No, Arthur, no!”; the crowd stampeded backward, knocking more shelves over; “Gentlemen, please—please!” cried the assistant, and then, louder than all—

“Break it up, there, gents, break it up—”

Hagrid was wading toward them through the sea of books. In an instant he had pulled Mr. Weasley and Mr. Malfoy apart. Mr. Weasley had a cut lip and Mr. Malfoy had been hit in the eye by an Encyclopedia of Toadstools. He was still holding Ginny’s old Transfiguration book. He thrust it at her, his eyes glittering with malice.

“Here, girl—take your book—it’s the best your father can give you—” Pulling himself out of Hagrid’s grip he beckoned to Draco and swept from the shop.

“Yeh should’ve ignored him, Arthur,” said Hagrid, almost lifting Mr. Weasley off his feet as he straightened his robes. “Rotten ter the core, the whole family, everyone knows that—no Malfoy’s worth listenin’ ter—bad blood, that’s what it is—come on now—let’s get outta here.”

The assistant looked as though he wanted to stop them leaving, but he barely came up to Hagrid’s waist and seemed to think better of it. They hurried up the street, the Grangers shaking with fright and Mrs. Weasley beside herself with fury.

“A fine example to set for your children… brawling in public… what Gilderoy Lockhart must’ve thought…”

“He was pleased,” said Fred. “Didn’t you hear him as we were leaving? He was asking that bloke from the Daily Prophet if he’d be able to work the fight into his report—said it was all publicity—”

But it was a subdued group that headed back to the fireside in the Leaky Cauldron, where Harry, the Weasleys, and all their shopping would be traveling back to the Burrow using Floo powder. They said good bye to the Grangers, who were leaving the pub for the Muggle street on the other side; Mr. Weasley started to ask them how bus stops worked, but stopped quickly at the look on Mrs. Weasley’s face.

Harry took off his glasses and put them safely in his pocket before helping himself to Floo powder. It definitely wasn’t his favorite way to travel.




5. THE WHOMPING WILLOW


The end of the summer vacation came too quickly for Harry’s liking. He was looking forward to getting back to Hogwarts, but his month at the Burrow had been the happiest of his life. It was difficult not to feel jealous of Ron when he thought of the Dursleys and the sort of welcome he could expect next time he turned up on Privet Drive.

On their last evening, Mrs. Weasley conjured up a sumptuous dinner that included all of Harry’s favorite things, ending with a mouthwatering treacle pudding. Fred and George rounded off the evening with a display of Filibuster fireworks; they filled the kitchen with red and blue stars that bounced from ceiling to wall for at least half an hour. Then it was time for a last mug of hot chocolate and bed.

It took a long while to get started next morning. They were up at dawn, but somehow they still seemed to have a great deal to do. Mrs. Weasley dashed about in a bad mood looking for spare socks and quills; people kept colliding on the stairs, half dressed with bits of toast in their hands; and Mr. Weasley nearly broke his neck, tripping over a stray chicken as he crossed the yard carrying Ginny’s trunk to the car.

Harry couldn’t see how eight people, six large trunks, two owls, and a rat were going to fit into one small Ford Anglia. He had reckoned, of course, without the special features that Mr. Weasley had added.

“Not a word to Molly,” he whispered to Harry as he opened the trunk and showed him how it had been magically expanded so that the luggage fitted easily.

When at last they were all in the car, Mrs. Weasley glanced into the back seat, where Harry, Ron, Fred, George, and Percy were all sitting comfortably side by side, and said, “Muggles do know more than we give them credit for, don’t they?” She and Ginny got into the front seat, which had been stretched so that it resembled a park bench. “I mean, you’d never know it was this roomy from the outside, would you?”

Mr. Weasley started up the engine and they trundled out of the yard, Harry turning back for a last look at the house. He barely had time to wonder when he’d see it again when they were back George had forgotten his box of Filibuster fireworks. Five minutes after that, they skidded to a halt in the yard so that Fred could run in for his broomstick. They had almost reached the highway when Ginny shrieked that she’d left her diary. By the time she had clambered back into the car, they were running very late, and tempers were running high.

Mr. Weasley glanced at his watch and then at his wife.

“Molly, dear—”

“No, Arthur—”

“No one would see—this little button here is an Invisibility Booster I installed—that’d get us up in the air—then we fly above the clouds. We’d be there in ten minutes and no one would be any the wiser—”

“I said no, Arthur, not in broad daylight—”

They reached King’s Cross at a quarter to eleven. Mr. Weasley dashed across the road to get trolleys for their trunks and they all hurried into the station.

Harry had caught the Hogwarts Express the previous year. The tricky part was getting onto platform nine and three-quarters, which wasn’t visible to the Muggle eye. What you had to do was walk through the solid barrier dividing platforms nine and ten. It didn’t hurt, but it had to be done carefully so that none of the Muggles noticed you vanishing.

“Percy first,” said Mrs. Weasley, looking nervously at the clock overhead, which showed they had only five minutes to disappear casually through the barrier.

Percy strode briskly forward and vanished. Mr. Weasley went next; Fred and George followed.

“I’ll take Ginny and you two come right after us,” Mrs. Weasley told Harry and Ron, grabbing Ginny’s hand and setting off. In the blink of an eye they were gone.

“Let’s go together, we’ve only got a minute,” Ron said to Harry.

Harry made sure that Hedwig’s cage was safely wedged on top of his trunk and wheeled his trolley around to face the barrier. He felt perfectly confident; this wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as using Floo powder. Both of them bent low over the handles of their trolleys and walked purposefully toward the barrier, gathering speed. A few feet away from it, they broke into a run and—

CRASH.

Both trolleys hit the barrier and bounced backward; Ron’s trunk fell off with a loud thump, Harry was knocked off his feet, and Hedwig’s cage bounced onto the shiny floor, and she rolled away, shrieking indignantly; people all around them stared and a guard nearby yelled, “What in blazes d’you think you’re doing?”

“Lost control of the trolley,” Harry gasped, clutching his ribs as he got up. Ron ran to pick up Hedwig, who was causing such a scene that there was a lot of muttering about cruelty to animals from the surrounding crowd.

“Why can’t we get through?” Harry hissed to Ron.

“I dunno—”

Ron looked wildly around. A dozen curious people were still watching them.

“We’re going to miss the train,” Ron whispered. “I don’t understand why the gateway’s sealed itself—”

Harry looked up at the giant clock with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. Ten seconds… nine seconds…

He wheeled his trolley forward cautiously until it was right against the barrier and pushed with all his might. The metal remained solid.

Three seconds… two seconds… one second…

“It’s gone,” said Ron, sounding stunned. “The train’s left. What if Mum and Dad can’t get back through to us? Have you got any Muggle money?”

Harry gave a hollow laugh. “The Dursleys haven’t given me pocket money for about six years.”

Ron pressed his ear to the cold barrier.

“Can’t hear a thing,” he said tensely. “What’re we going to do? I don’t know how long it’ll take Mum and Dad to get back to us.”

They looked around. People were still watching them, mainly because of Hedwigs’s continuing screeches.

“I think we’d better go and wait by the car,” said Harry. “We’re attracting too much atten—”

“Harry!” said Ron, his eyes gleaing. “The car!”

“What about it?”

“We can fly the car to Hogwarts!”

“But I thought—”

“We’re stuck, right? And we’ve got to get to school, haven’t we? And even underage wizards are allowed to use magic if it’s a real emergency, section nineteen or something of the Restriction of Thingy…”

 “But your Mum and Dad…” said Harry, pushing against the barrier again in the vain hope that it would give way. “How will they get home?”

“They don’t need the car!” said Ron impatiently. “They know how to Apparate! You know, just vanish and reappear at home! They only bother with Floo powder and the car because we’re all underage and we’re not allowed to Apparate yet…”

Harry’s feeling of panick turned suddenly into excitement.

“Can you fly it?”

“No problem,” said Ron, wheeling his trilley aroud to face the exit. “C’mon, let’s go, if we hurry we’ll be able to follow the Hogwarts Express—”

And they marched off through the crowd of curious Muggles, out of the station and back onto the side road where the old Ford Anglia was parked.

Ron unlocked the cavernous trunk with a series of taps from his wand. They heaved their luggage back in, put Hedwig on the back seat, and got into the front.

“Check that no one’s watching,” said Ron, starting the ignition with another tap of his wand. Harry stuck his head out of the window: Traffic was rumbling along the main road ahead, but their street was empty.

“Okay,” he said.

Ron pressed a tiny silver button on the dashboard. The car around them vanished—and so did they. Harry could feel the seat vibrating beneath him, hear the engine, feel his hands on his knees and his glasses on his nose, but for all he could see, he had become a pair of eyeballs, floating a few feet above the ground in a dingy street full of parked cars.

“Let’s go,” said Ron’s voice from his right.

And the ground and the dirty buildings on either side fell away, dropping out of sight as the car rose; in seconds, the whole of London lay, smoky and glittering, below them.

Then there was a popping noise and the car, Harry, and Ron reappeared.

“Uh oh,” said Ron, jabbing at the Invisibility Booster. “It’s faulty—”

Both of them pummeled it. The car vanished. Then it flickered back again.

“Hold on!” Ron yelled, and he slammed his foot on the accelerator; they shot straight into the low, woolly clouds and everything turned dull and foggy.

“Now what?” said Harry, blinking at the solid mass of cloud pressing in on them from all sides.

“We need to see the train to know what direction to go in,” said Ron.

“Dip back down again—quickly—”

They dropped back beneath the clouds and twisted around in their seats, squinting at the ground.

“I can see it!” Harry yelled. “Right ahead—there!”

The Hogwarts Express was streaking along below them like a scarlet snake.

“Due north,” said Ron, checking the compass on the dashboard. “Okay, we’ll just have to check on it every half hour or so—Hold on—”

And they shot up through the clouds. A minute later, they burst out into a blaze of sunlight.

It was a different world. The wheels of the car skimmed the sea of fluffy cloud, the sky a bright, endless blue under the blinding white sun.

“All we’ve got to worry about now are airplanes,” said Ron.

They looked at each other and started to laugh; for a long time, they couldn’t stop.

It was as though they had been plunged into a fabulous dream. This, thought Harry, was surely the only way to travel—past swirls and turrets of snowy cloud, in a car full of hot, bright sunlight, with a fat pack of toffees in the glove compartment, and the prospect of seeing Fred’s and George’s jealous faces when they landed smoothly and spectacularly on the sweeping lawn in front of Hogwarts castle.

They made regular checks on the train as they flew farther and farther north, each dip beneath the clouds showing them a different view. London was soon far behind them, replaced by neat green fields that gave way in turn to wide, purplish moors, a great city alive with cars like multicolored ants, villages with tiny toy churches.

Several uneventful hours later, however, Harry had to admit that some of the fun was wearing off. The toffees had made them extremely thirsty and they had nothing to drink. He and Ron had pulled off their sweaters, but Harry’s T shirt was sticking to the back of his seat and his glasses kept sliding down to the end of his sweaty nose. He had stopped noticing the fantastic cloud shapes now and was thinking longingly of the train miles below, where you could buy ice cold pumpkin juice from a trolley pushed by a plump witch. Why hadn’t they been able to get onto platform nine and three-quarters?

“Can’t be much further, can it?” croaked Ron, hours later still, as the sun started to sink into their floor of cloud, staining it a deep pink. “Ready for another check on the train?”

It was still right below them, winding its way past a snowcapped mountain. It was much darker beneath the canopy of clouds.

Ron put his foot on the accelerator and drove them upward again, but as he did so, the engine began to whine.

Harry and Ron exchanged nervous glances.

“It’s probably just tired,” said Ron. “It’s never been this far before…”

And they both pretended not to notice the whining growing louder and louder as the sky became steadily darker. Stars were blossoming in the blackness. Harry pulled his sweater back on, trying to ignore the way the windshield wipers were now waving feebly, as though in protest.

“Not far,” said Ron, more to the car than to Harry, “not far now,” and he patted the dashboard nervously.

When they flew back beneath the clouds a little while later, they had to squint through the darkness for a landmark they knew.

“There!” Harry shouted, making Ron and Hedwig jump. “Straight ahead!”

Silhouetted on the dark horizon, high on the cliff over the lake, stood the many turrets and towers of Hogwarts castle.

But the car had begun to shudder and was losing speed.

“Come on,” Ron said cajolingly, giving the steering wheel a little shake, “nearly there, come on—”

The engine groaned. Narrow jets of steam were issuing from under the hood. Harry found himself gripping the edges of his seat very hard as they flew toward the lake.

The car gave a nasty wobble. Glancing out of his window, Harry saw the smooth, black, glassy surface of the water, a mile below. Ron’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel. The car wobbled again.

“Come on,” Ron muttered.

They were over the lake—the castle was right ahead—Ron put his foot down.

There was a loud clunk, a splutter, and the engine died completely.

“Uh oh,” said Ron, into the silence.

The nose of the car dropped. They were falling, gathering speed, heading straight for the solid castle wall.

“Noooooo!” Ron yelled, swinging the steering wheel around; they missed the dark stone wall by inches as the car turned in a great arc, soaring over the dark greenhouses, then the vegetable patch, and then out over the black lawns, losing altitude all the time.

Ron let go of the steering wheel completely and pulled his wand out of his back pocket—

“STOP! STOP!” he yelled, whacking the dashboard and the windshield, but they were still plummeting, the ground flying up toward them—

“WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!” Harry bellowed, lunging for the steering wheel, but too late—

CRUNCH.

With an earsplitting bang of metal on wood, they hit the thick tree trunk and dropped to the ground with a heavy jolt. Steam was billowing from under the crumpled hood; Hedwig was shrieking in terror; a golf ball size lump was throbbing on Harry’s head where he had hit the windshield; and to his right, Ron let out a low, despairing groan.

“Are you okay?” Harry said urgently.

“My wand,” said Ron, in a shaky voice. “Look at my wand—”

It had snapped, almost in two; the tip was dangling limply, held on by a few splinters.

Harry opened his mouth to say he was sure they’d be able to mend it up at the school, but he never even got started. At that very moment, something hit his side of the car with the force of a charging bull, sending him lurching sideways into Ron, just as an equally heavy blow hit the roof.

“What’s happen—?”

Ron gasped, staring through the windshield, and Harry looked around just in time to see a branch as thick as a python smash into it. The tree they had hit was attacking them. Its trunk was bent almost double, and its gnarled boughs were pummeling every inch of the car it could reach.

“Aaargh!” said Ron as another twisted limb punched a large dent into his door; the windshield was now trembling under a hail of blows from knuckle like twigs and a branch as thick as a battering ram was pounding furiously on the roof, which seemed to be caving in—

“Run for it!” Ron shouted, throwing his full weight against his door, but next second he had been knocked backward into Harry’s lap by a vicious uppercut from another branch.

“We’re done for!” he moaned as the ceiling sagged, but suddenly the floor of the car was vibrating—the engine had restarted.

“Reverse!” Harry yelled, and the car shot backward; the tree was still trying to hit them; they could hear its roots creaking as it almost ripped itself up, lashing out at them as they sped out of reach.

“That,” panted Ron, “was close. Well done, car—”

The car, however, had reached the end of its tether. With two sharp clunks, the doors flew open and Harry felt his seat tip sideways: Next thing he knew he was sprawled on the damp ground. Loud thuds told him that the car was ejecting their luggage from the trunk; Hedwig’s cage flew through the air and burst open; she rose out of it with an angry screech and sped off toward the castle without a backward look. Then, dented, scratched, and steaming, the car rumbled off into the darkness, its rear lights blazing angrily.

“Come back!” Ron yelled after it, brandishing his broken wand. “Dad’ll kill me!” But the car disappeared from view with one last snort from its exhaust.

“Can you believe our luck?” said Ron miserably, bending down to pick up Scabbers. “Of all the trees we could’ve hit, we had to get one that hits back.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the ancient tree, which was still flailing its branches threateningly.

“Come on,” said Harry wearily, “we’d better get up to the school…”
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